TB (4-1) @ PHI (2-3) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
Tom Brady was able to beat the Eagles a couple of years ago with the Patriots in his first shot at them since the Super Bowl LII loss, but it was a low-scoring game (17-10), and you can be sure the GOAT is going to want to put up big-time numbers tonight in another rematch. Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Antonio Brown have been uncoverable together, so not having Rob Gronkowski (ribs) for the third game in a row isn’t enough to slow down Tampa Bay, and Philadelphia has really struggled this season versus the high-octane attacks of the Cowboys and Chiefs (41+ points allowed in both games). That means it will take a big-time performance from Jalen Hurts to pull off the upset, and a slow start like we saw in Carolina—largely due to very questionable play-calling—would lead to the Eagles not having a chance to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions. The advantage Philly has is regarding speed on the perimeter, so Hurts’ deep ball needs to be on point to attack Richard Sherman, and there will be lanes for him as a runner when the Bucs play man coverage. Based on what we’ve seen for most of the season, Tampa Bay should improve to 5-1.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
MIA (1-4) @ JAX (0-5) | SUN 9:30 AM ET | CBS
Dolphins-Jaguars isn’t a great on-paper matchup between two teams with a combined 1-9 record, but Tua Tagovailoa versus Trevor Lawrence gives the London fans an exciting battle between young quarterbacks, and both sides have more talent than the records suggest. This week is a good measuring stick for the progress Urban Meyer is (or isn’t) making in Jacksonville, as showing up unprepared for a trip across the pond would be shown versus a Miami team that has been well coached under Brian Flores, and an 0-6 start before the bye isn’t what Meyer envisioned when he took the job. James Robinson not getting a carry near the goal line—a key turning point in each of the past two weeks—needs to be corrected, but the Dolphins have been surprisingly vulnerable on the backend, so Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault need to be more involved, too. On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins could have a problem stopping Josh Allen off the edge (he had a sack and three quarterback hits in last season’s matchup), but I’m going with the team more likely to work their way back into contention.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
KC (2-3) @ WAS (2-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Chiefs shouldn’t exactly be hitting the panic button offensively with Patrick Mahomes leading the league in touchdowns passes (16) through five weeks, but he’s already matched his interception total from last season (six), and a few of the scores have been “cheap” ones around the goal line. Fortunately, Washington has struggled on defense, and this weekend feels like a blowup spot where Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce both do whatever they want; since holding Justin Herbert and the Chargers in check to open the year, Ron Rivera’s defense has allowed point totals of 29, 43, 30, and 33 over the past four games. Although unfair to judge a draft pick after one season (let alone five games), first-round linebacker Jamin Davis—who played just 13 snaps last week—has been one of the season’s biggest disappointments, and I believe Washington is one of many teams that will come to regret passing on former Notre Dame standout Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Even at home, it’s asking a lot of Taylor Heinicke to outduel Mahomes, especially without Curtis Samuel (groin) and Logan Thomas (hamstring).
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
LAR (4-1) @ NYG (1-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Not coming through in a couple of close September games will be something that stings to look back on for the Giants, and now there is a high likelihood of sitting at 1-5 by Sunday evening. West coast teams traveling for an early start is sometimes a factor, but New York again being ravaged by injuries on offense—perhaps without all of Daniel Jones (concussion), Saquon Barkley (ankle), Kenny Golladay (knee), Sterling Shepard (hamstring), Darius Slayton (hamstring), and Andrew Thomas (foot) this week—doesn’t inspire much confidence about their chances. On defense, the group simply needs to be better after it was thought to be a strength and potentially one of the top units in the league, so we’ll see if shaky play from Matthew Stafford over the past couple of games will lead to them capitalizing with stops/takeaways. Still, the advantage LA has almost every week in terms of firepower should allow them to get through the rest of October (@ NYG, v DET, @ HOU) without much trouble.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
HOU (1-4) @ IND (1-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Colts blowing a 22-3 lead on Monday night was crushing for them, and an inexplicable lack of coverage on Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown down the stretch was frustrating to watch without even having a significant rooting interest in the game. Indy can’t let the heartbreak hold them down in Week 6, though, and there were definite positives with Carson Wentz throwing for 400+ yards and the defense successfully stopping the run. To avoid an upset against the Texans, Jonathan Taylor has to be fed more than the 14.6 carries per game he’s averaged through five weeks, and the superstar back should be utilized as a receiver once again—he’s caught 50-of-55 passes thrown his way with an average of 9.0 yards per target to begin his career. Not saying it will happen, but don’t be surprised if the Colts get some calls going in their direction in the coming weeks to avoid having a team with little-to-no playoff hopes being featured on the in-season version of Hard Knocks next month… the NFL is a business, after all.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
CIN (3-2) @ DET (0-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
But that isn’t how Dan Campbell views the league, and while I’m not saying you need to be emotional about things, the NFL would be an even better product if everyone cared at the level Campbell does. Overall, the Lions are fighting too hard and maximizing their talent too well to go without a win for long, but losing center Frank Ragnow (toe) for the season takes away arguably their best player, and I’m not confident the defense will be able to keep it a low-scoring game this week considering all the weapons for Cincinnati. I expect Detroit might try to play coverage in order to prevent chunk plays from Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, but Joe Mixon being closer to full strength with his ankle injury will make that a challenge, and—outside of a couple of costly interceptions—Joe Burrow has played efficient football in Year 2. A turnover-free game at home is the best chance for Detroit to get the first win of the Campbell era.
Winner: Cincinnati Bengals
GB (4-1) @ CHI (3-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Packers-Bears is a great rivalry no matter how much success Aaron Rodgers has had against the division rival (21-5 record, including playoffs), and the hope is that Justin Fields will give Chicago a quarterback that can go head-to-head with anyone. However, it will take time if it happens, and counting on a rookie to beat Rodgers is a tough ask—particularly a rookie that has only averaged 9.7 completions per game through his first three starts. Maybe the Bears have been keeping running plays for Fields under wraps in anticipation for this end-of-October stretch (v GB, @ TB, v SF), but I doubt it, and the absence of David Montgomery (knee) could be felt with Green Bay sure to crowd the line of scrimmage on Sunday. I think the increasingly balanced attack from the Packers will allow Rodgers to stay clean from a heated-up Khalil Mack (5.0 sacks over the past four games), and Davante Adams has eight scores in his past ten games versus Chicago.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
LAC (4-1) @ BAL (4-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Chargers-Ravens is the clear headliner for Week 6, and the winner should have the inside track to being the top contender behind Buffalo in the AFC. Lamar Jackson’s career-best passing performance—and his second heroic showing in primetime to begin 2021—could be the jumping point for Baltimore eventually making a deep postseason run, and I’m expecting nothing less than another down-to-the-wire finish versus Los Angeles. For as good as the passing attack has been, though, the Ravens might be wise to get back to basics by pounding the Chargers with Latavius Murray after Cleveland just ran for 230 yards and three scores on them. Doing that also keeps Justin Herbert off the field, and Baltimore will be facing a different Mike Williams than the one they saw in two 2018 matchups (including a playoff loss) when the big-bodied wideout wasn’t a focal-point. Baltimore is favored by a field goal at home, but the aggressiveness of Brandon Staley and Herbert gets the nod for me.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
MIN (2-3) @ CAR (3-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The status of Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) is crucial with Matt Rhule calling him “50-50” to return on Sunday, as I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Sam Darnold’s play—with five interceptions over the past two games—has dipped since losing perhaps the best weapon in football. Darnold is a different quarterback than he was in New York, but it’s worth noting that he had four turnovers in his lone matchup versus Mike Zimmer’s defense (in 2018), and it’s important that he doesn’t let recent woes snowball into something more. The Vikings are moving in the opposite direction by winning two of their past three games, and the lone loss was a slugfest versus the Browns; overall, the defense has limited opponents to 17 or fewer points in each game over that span, and Patrick Peterson playing every snap is an excellent sign for how much he has left in the tank. I’ve gone back-and-forth for this game, but Minnesota appears to be the more confident team, and I’ll say Peterson gets on the board with a clutch interception.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
ARI (5-0) @ CLE (3-2) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
Nick Chubb probably could have gone for 200+ yards on his own last week if he didn’t get dinged up—I thought something looked to be bothering him, and he’s listed on the injury report this week with a calf injury—but offense wasn’t the issue for Cleveland, and they need to get the other side of the ball corrected with the undefeated Cardinals coming to town this weekend. It’s interesting that Kyler Murray (shoulder) is also listed on the injury report to begin the week, and that signals definite concern based on how last season ended for Arizona when their quarterback was banged up with a shoulder issue and then a hamstring injury. To take advantage of Murray possibly being less than 100% and without center Rodney Hudson (ribs), the Browns should think about unleashing Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah more as a blitzer; if pass protection isn’t aligned, the rookie or someone else might get a free shot on the shifty quarterback. Oddsmakers giving the points to the last remaining unbeaten team in the NFL might be a surprise, but Chandler Jones (COVID-19 list) isn’t expected to be cleared for the Cardinals, and Cleveland’s running game is as good as ever.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
LV (3-2) @ DEN (3-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Derek Carr has had the best perspective yet on the Jon Gruden situation:
“Don’t get me wrong, I love the man, and you hate the sin. Like for anybody, no one is perfect. If we just started opening up everybody’s private emails and texts, people will start sweating a little bit. Hopefully not too many, but maybe that’s what they should do for all coaches and GMs and owners from now on. You got to open up everything and see what happens. […] But long story short, you hate, you feel for everybody involved, but I will always be someone no matter who does what I’m going to love you. And if that’s wrong, then I’m okay being wrong. I’m going to try and build people up no matter what. That doesn’t make what they did right, but I’m always going to be there to try and be there on the next step, on the other side, to try and lift them back up and love them up again.”
Winner: Las Vegas Raiders
DAL (4-1) @ NE (2-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
I said it last week and will say it again, but the Cowboys have somehow become overlooked among the NFL’s elite teams—and this is coming from someone who has never thought of the franchise as a serious contender since I’ve been old enough to follow football; more evidence we’re living in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Even crazier than that, the Patriots will start 0-4 at home if they don’t win this weekend, so it’s imperative to come out with a game plan on offense that allows Mac Jones to play with a lead. Dating back to the Tom Brady years, New England often starts slow as a team before finding their footing, and this weekend is a good time to open up the offense for Nelson Agholor after Dallas showed quite a bit of holes in coverage versus the Giants. Defensively, I’d anticipate Bill Belichick coming out with a game plan that’s very similar to the one used against Tampa Bay with bracket coverage on CeeDee Lamb and J.C. Jackson shadowing Amari Cooper, so Tony Pollard could be the “X-factor” with Michael Gallup (calf) still out. In an effort to get the world back to normal, I’ll take New England.
Winner: New England Patriots
SEA (2-3) @ PIT (2-3) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
I honestly believe Geno Smith would have led a game-winning drive against the Rams last Thursday night if the pass interference on Tyler Lockett was called to erase the game-ending interception, but looking ahead to this week, the interim starter for Seattle has to be confident based on how he played off the bench. With Chris Carson (neck) on track for a return, the Seahawks are still plenty capable on offense, and Smith being under center might even lead to better play on defense as the group knows they need to step up without Russell Wilson (finger) there to bail them out. That said, Pittsburgh’s opportunistic defense will try to force Smith into mistakes that plagued him with the Jets (36 interceptions in 33 games), and T.J. Watt could have a game-wrecking night with 5.0 sacks in three-plus games. On offense, James Washington will get extended run for the Steelers with JuJu Smith-Schuster (shoulder) done for the season, and Seattle hasn’t shown they can keep receivers in front of them.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
BUF (4-1) @ TEN (3-2) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
Playoff success is where it will count, but Josh Allen and the Bills have proven they can beat anyone in the AFC after finally taking down Kansas City last Sunday night—and it was in convincing fashion. Now, Buffalo sits comfortably in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the conference, and I don’t think Tennessee’s defensive success against them with 14.3 points per game allowed in three matchups will carry into Monday night. Just looking at last season’s 42-16 victory for the Titans, it was during a COVID-impacted stretch (on a Tuesday) as Allen dealt with a shoulder injury, so I’d say Mike Vrabel’s team has avoided the final-form version of the Bills offense until this week. If so, getting Julio Jones (hamstring) back would be huge, and A.J. Brown had a great game versus Buffalo in 2020 by catching seven-of-nine targets for 82 yards and a touchdown. As long as they don’t have a letdown following last week’s win, I like the Bills to contain Derrick Henry and extend their winning streak to five games.
Winner: Buffalo Bills